As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of New Orleans cuisine, my 5th thought after last year’s BP oil spill gulf disaster (after “good lord, haven’t they been through enough?” “of course Halliburton is connected to this,” “at least this will get people to reconsider all the drilling,” and “so much for scuba diving off the east coast of Mexico for, like, ever.”) was about the safety of the gulf seafood. After all, the Gulf of Mexico supplies 40 percent of the seafood harvested in the continental US, including more than 70 percent of the shrimp and two-thirds of the oysters harvested domestically, but the region only accounts for two percent of what we consume domestically, since 83 percent of what we consume is imported. While there are few things better than a big plate of Crawfish Étouffée, I much prefer the gulf mudbugs to the Chinese ones.
Oh dolphins. So smart and cute and playful, they’re like the labradoodle of the sea. Sure, some may consider them to be the honey badger of the sea with their ravenous and unquenchable thirst for murder, but they also provide so many college girls with the perfect tattoo image. Whichever way you feel about dolphins, you don’t want to eat them, and you don’t want to see the second most intelligent animal on Earth (just above humans and below mice) slaughtered just so you can enjoy that Niçoise salad or sashimi platter.
Because large yellowfin tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean school with our mammalian cousins, the U.S. Department of Commerce has discouraged tuna fishing methods that can threaten dolphins through the proliferation of the now ubiquitous “Dolphin-Safe” label on your favorite cans of albacore, yellowfin and tongol. This label, introduced with the passage of the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act in 1990, has been greatly successful in helping dolphin populations rebound from their lowest points in the early 1990s that were attributed to harmful and irresponsible fishing practices.
Waste. The byproduct of consumer culture is the bane of environmentalists. We have chanted the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” for more than a generation, yet our entire economy is based on wasteful consumption with packaging, material byproducts and the like rising exponentially throughout the Age of Convenience. As a result, waste processors have become dominant forces in helping manage the systemic byproducts, facilitating the convenience we’ve come to expect with routine weekly curb-side pickups. The simple act of separating recyclable materials from the landfill-bound waste has been enabled by the curb-side pickup, which many now take for granted. No longer are we in the dark ages of recycling when clear glass was separated from brown and green, newspaper was separated from cardboard, and only collecting plastic containers with a neck was allowed, followed by a hauling to a trailer parked behind the supermarket for collection. Now it’s easy, thanks to companies like Waste Management (WM) who have shifted their practices from being collector/dumpers to being true waste managers: diverting millions of tons of waste from landfills and into recycling and composting facilities, reducing the amount of landfill waste, and generating the energy equivalent of nearly six million tons of coal and more than 20 million barrels of oil.
The purpose of sustainability reporting is to measure, disclose, and ultimately be accountable to stakeholders for sustainable development and performance. Many companies that are just getting into reporting utilize the report as a marketing tool in ways that avoid accountability, in particular by ignoring the negatives about their business operations and only highlighting the positives, or by framing questionable behaviors in a sustainability context. In their 2010 CSR report (pdf), WM utilizes the GRI guidelines with a self-reporting grade of “B,” indicating the number of GRI indicators being covered in the 68 page (and 36 page appendix) report. They include an impressive 81 indicators fully or partially included in the report. Their commitment is strong, the content is straight forward and accessible, and the efforts are ambitious. Although they did not receive the “+” grade due to a lack of external assurances – an important but expensive step in report transparency – they assert that all quantitive data was audited by their Corporate Internal Audit Department.
Monsanto, known and sometimes criticized for their role in the proliferation of genetically modified crops in the US and the world, has released their 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report. The company, accused by some as “poisoning the world’s food supply,” monopolizing the seed market and even contributing to rural suicides in India, is lauding their sustainability efforts. Having greatly increased food production in much of the world, the company argues they are reducing hunger and providing a greater livelihood for farmers. The following is a brief analysis of their report.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set forth plan to set standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the heaviest polluters. In a landmark announcement, in line with their relatively new jurisdiction over GHG regulations within the Clean Air Act, the EPA announced that they will issue more specific standards in the upcoming year. Fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries will be the ones most directly affected by the new rules, and considering that these sources account for 40 percent of the nation’s GHG pollution, they aim to have a high impact.
“The King is dead! Long live the King!”
I never really understood what that phrase meant – until now. Supporters of carbon markets witnessed the death of any potential for a climate bill in the US, at least until after the 2012 election. The Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary emissions exchange platform built as the model for a potential US carbon market, announced that it was shutting down its primary operations by the end of this year, mainly as a response to the fact that no meaningful climate legislation would be passed by Congress. The lifeline of a potential carbon market was, in essence, dead.
California has now ascended to the throne of market-based emissions exchange leadership. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted 9-1 yesterday to develop an exchange that will allow facilities in the industrial, electrical, transportation and natural gas sectors – the largest pollution emitters – to utilize a market based system to find the least costly way to reduce emissions. This program is being developed under AB32, California’s famous climate change mitigation initiative, which was saved from its own death by an overwhelming popular vote defeating Prop 23 in November. CARB used the political capital gained in that historic vote to implement the new market, which will operate as a cap-and-trade system.
As reported last week, the state of New York was considering a ban on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas exploration. Over the weekend Governor David Patterson signed a seven month moratorium on the most potentially destructive methods of horizontal fracturing, although many climate hawks would have preferred a more extensive ban.
“The ideas are out there,” Branson told reporters. “But if the worst came to the worst and governments did not get their act together, industry should be able to solve the problems themselves. If governments set a framework in which clean energy was not taxed and dirty energy was, then there is a chance. That’s what government has to do.”
What he is suggesting is known as a “Pigovian” tax. This type of tax is imposed on companies that pollute the environment or cause other type of social harm with their product, and its purpose is to encourage more socially and environmentally responsible behavior through financial incentives. It is meant to counter the externalization of negative costs, which in today’s economy currently go unaccounted for. The taxes levied on the negative externalities would be used to mitigate the problems caused by the product. Some classic examples of a Pigovian tax are cigarette taxes that are used for cancer research and smoking awareness campaigns, or taxing gulf-based oil companies and directing the revenue towards spill remediation.
The Carbon War Room, the Sir Richard Branson non-profit organization that encourages and develops market-driven climate solutions, has announced the winners of their Gigaton Awards at the Cancún Climate Summit. According to the CWR, “The Gigaton Awards seeks to bring prestige and recognition to companies showing leadership in emissions reductions and sustainable practices, thereby engendering more action. The Awards also seek to raise the profile of company actions that are actually making a difference.”
The winners this year include (by sector):
It looks like one of the more controversial methods of gas extraction is coming under greater regulatory scrutiny: New York is considering becoming the first state to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The state assembly voted 93-43 to impose a temporary moratorium on the practice which would extend until May 2011, giving the state more time to investigate environmental and safety concerns. Governor David Patterson has 10 days to consider signing the bill into law.
If signed, New York would become the first state to ban the controversial practice, which involves drilling deep into the earth and pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into wells at extremely high pressure. This process fractures the shale enabling natural gas deposits to flow more freely.